Aiming for the Macdonald Rusacks Hotel, I end up doing a mix of everything and find myself haring through Glenrothes. But I get there in the end.
And it's lovely to be back in this East Coast university town right on the North Sea, to see its famous golf links and its ruined medieval cathedral.
Finding Tony Borthwick in the kitchen of the three AA-rosette Rocca restaurant, the flagship restaurant at the Rusacks, grinning like a Cheshire cat, was worth the stress. The charismatic Yorkshire-born chef, who closed his Michelin-starred Edinburgh restaurant the Plumed Horse a year or so ago, also seemed to have lost his way since we last met. He’d gone missing from the culinary scene, and speculation about what he would do next had made him something of an enigma in his own lunchtime. Then came the news he’d been headhunted by the Macdonald hotel group to take the helm here as executive head chef.
A seven-course tasting menu spoke for him: diver scallops, sole and salmon, their flavours brought to life by lemongrass hot broth; a terrine of seasonal grouse and foie gras served with fresh leaves and shaved black truffle; tender venison loin pieces atop dots and smears of smoked carrot and vanilla purees; and a blackberry souffle paired with an intensely flavoured sorbet suggested a newly restored confidence. (continues ...)
(continued) Nevertheless, he admitted later that he’d struggled after the Michelin Guide removed the Plumed Horse’s star in 2011 after 10 years, although he insists that wasn’t what made him decide to close up. “I needed time to reflect on what I wanted to do. I was licking my wounds. It was my baby and it was sore to see something like that close.
“I was at a bit of a loss as to why we lost the star and I maintain it was never because of the food. There must have been other things that came into play because there were no conceptual changes in the food.
“I felt really sad that I’d let everyone down. I wanted it to work for my staff, because it was great for them to work in a Michelin-starred restaurant. I paid off some of my suppliers out of my own pocket.”
Now it seems he’s found a new direction. At Rusacks he is in charge of Rocca, the One Under gastropub and the R Bar, working with the established brigade there to develop new menus, breakfasts and afternoon tea.
“I’m still doing the same thing. I’m still cooking and creating my own menus, using local ingredients and supporting local suppliers,” he said. “My style of food can be a lot simpler than many other chefs, yet flavours and textures remain multi-layered. And when you have a location like this, you don’t need Michelin stars.”
And that location just happens tvo be one of the most famous views in golf. Rusacks overlooks the 18th green of the Old Course, and many of the lavish bedroom suites provide uninterrupted sight not only of the course but also of the mesmeric St Andrews Bay with its sandy beach and rolling tides. For those who aren’t golfers, it’s fun to open the windows to watch the early-morning players and beachcombers while enjoying the sea breeze.
Yet there’s more to Borthwick’s appointment than meets the eye. Macdonald Hotels and Resorts has been granted planning permission for a £7 million extension to the Rusacks hotel, which will include a 145-cover rooftop restaurant, bar and terrace with views over the Old Course and West Sands, as well as glass-fronted new suites, all designed by the Scottish firm WCP Architects.
“This is totally different for me. The operation as it currently stands is four times the size of the Plumed Horse, with a large prep kitchen to boot,” he said. “And with the planned extension, the future looks like a very exciting time for me.”
* This article was first published in The Herald.